Man Convicted for 1989 Slaying Granted Bail After Key Witness Recants

Apr 13, 2017

A man who has served nearly three decades in prison for a murder in Portland was granted bail Thursday due to new evidence that casts doubt on his guilt.

An attorney for Anthony Sanborn Jr. argued before the Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court that a state prosecutor and two Portland police detectives mishandled the case.

Sixteen-year-old Jessica Briggs was murdered in 1989 on the Maine State Pier. Her boyfriend at the time, 16-year-old Anthony Sanborn, was ultimately convicted of the crime and sentenced to 70 years in prison.

Sanborn has maintained his innocence, and his current attorney, Amy Fairfield, now alleges that two Portland police detectives and Assistant Attorney General Pamela Ames withheld evidence in the case. Fairfield petitioned the court for a hearing to reverse Sanborn’s conviction and to release him on bail while considering the case.

That hearing happened Thursday, and when Sanborn entered the courtroom, the crowd of supporters erupted into applause.

A key witness for the state in the original trial was Hope Cady, who was 13 at the time of the murder and testified that she saw Sanborn kill Briggs. Fairfield called Cady to the stand again, where she recanted her original testimony.

Anthony Sanborn Jr. breaks down after crowd applauds when he enters the courtroom.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public

Fairfield also revealed in the hearing that Cady had lifelong vision problems, which the state knew during the trial but did not disclose to the defense.

Cady also testified that she felt threatened by Portland police detectives James Daniels and Daniel Young, who investigated the murder, and that they told her what to say during the trial.

The state, meanwhile, represented by Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, reiterated Cady’s original testimony.

A caseworker who was Cady’s guardian at the time of the original trial testified that she documented Cady’s vision problems, as well as Cady’s conflicting accounts of witnessing the murder.

After questioning witnesses for two hours, Fairfield argued to Judge Joyce Wheeler that the new evidence cast doubt on Cady’s original testimony, and that Sanborn should be released on bail while considering further evidence in his case.

Hope Cady
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public

“To keep this man in jail for one second longer just perpetuates this miscarriage of justice that has happened to this wonderful human being. He is deserving of bail, I would urge the court to admit him to bail right now so that this stops now,” she said

After deliberating for about a half hour, Wheeler did just that.

“This is only a bail hearing, so I cannot apologize to you, Mr. Sanborn, at this time,” she said. “All I can say is there is a reasonable likelihood that you will succeed on the petition and I am going to set bail.”

Sanborn cried when he heard the news, and as he was later escorted to a bus to the Cumberland County Jail to wait to post bail, he told reporters that justice was being served.

Michelle Sanborn
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public

His wife of five years, Michelle Sanborn, who has worked to exonerate Sanborn for much longer, was shaking at the news.

“I just want my life back. I just want all of our lives back. And I must thank Justice Wheeler for being a woman of compassion, and doing the right thing, and giving me faith in our system again,” she said.

Sanborn’s mother, Helen Sanborn, says she always believed her son would one day come home and that she’s proud of his accomplishments in prison, which include teaching reading, writing and parenting classes to other inmates.

“He’s done good for all the people in there, and helped a lot of people out. I’m proud of him,” she said.

Anthony Sanborn Jr. is escorted out of Cumberland County court Thursday.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public

Though Sanborn was granted bail set at $25,000 in cash or surety bond, the case isn’t over yet. A hearing is expected for the end of April, when Wheeler will consider further evidence to determine whether to reverse Sanborn’s conviction or order a new trial.

Ames is now in private practice and declined comment through a member of her office staff. The Portland police detectives have filed affidavits denying the allegations against them.